How Interns Lead Us

Sure internships help build careers—but not just for the young professional learning the ropes.

The goal of an internship is to foster professional development and positively influence career paths.

But while we often champion the benefit internships have for these bright new stars, there are two other big advantages to consider. Interns can help leaders build their management skills—and fill talent gaps caused by low unemployment.

Refining Skill Sets and Advancing the Business

Over the last several decades, internships have become an expectation along the career trajectory, teaching the newbies the ropes so they become productive.  Scores of C-level executives have held internships, as did Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

I also believe that internships can help secure our future labor pool.

As an executive recruiter, clients sometimes ask if I know of students interested in internships. This past summer I introduced a client to an intern named Jonah. His experience with the company was great, and Jonah commented on how helpful the training was for his career. “I feel like the work I did this summer was important,” he said, “and I think that the lessons and professional skills I picked up are what will stay with me forever.”

Closer to home, my eldest son, Aaron, secured his summer internship through professionals he met from a previous internship. (Who needs a mother who owns a recruiting firm when he can find his own job?!)  For three months, he trained at a local commercial bank specializing in commercial real estate and construction loans.

Aaron’s skills grew exponentially from this experience, and he reported that while his boss was always available, he handed over the reins when appropriate. “I respect a leadership approach that puts trust in your employees,” Aaron said, “because it allows the team to do what they were hired to do.”

During his internship, Aaron helped analyze potential real estate opportunities in relation to spreads and market trends. Furthermore, he practiced financial modeling, a skill he hopes to continue to grow in the coming year. Lastly, for the bulk of his internship he conducted a consulting project that assessed the organizational structure and work processes of the bank and then presented the research and recommendations to the president and senior management. These findings resulted in significant savings and efficiencies.

Yes, an intern’s work revealed significant savings for the employer. This is because Aaron’s managers guided him in ways that gave him the freedom to work on his own accord and trust that he would do the job well.

The Cutting Edge of Industry

Interns, by their very definition, are learning. As such, their education is cutting edge, revealing the most recent best practices, technologies, and theories. As a leader or manager, you can use that knowledge to the company’s benefit.

And because an internship is basically a three-month long job interview, leaders and executives can get to know these young professionals through the lens of future employment, or to spotlight any issues that need correcting (or celebrating) within the company culture.

Refining Management Skills

Internships are also an opportunity for leaders to refine their interpersonal and organizational skills. From the need to plan and prepare for the day, to communicating clearly, an intern’s success is partially dependent upon the level of guidance from the manager.

Jonah, for example, said that his managers set him up for success by “helping me with any problem or questions I had.” He also said his managers made sure he was introduced to everyone in the department to ensure he had access to all the resources he needed.

Real World Value

Interns can add real world business value when leaders take the time to leverage their skills. Global retailer Gap understands this, and has reported that the company plans to hire 5 percent of entry-level employees from the training program it runs in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. And in the technology industry, companies are turning to interns to help fill staffing needs on a regular basis.

Welcoming The iGeneration

As we march into the next several years, millennials will be competing against Generation Z for jobs. Generation Z, also known as iGeneration, represents the largest future employment population to date. These young professionals want money and security in their careers, and they are comfortable taking risks.

In other words, leaders must be sure they know their audience. When working with interns, make a concerted effort to give them the opportunity to learn and practice the skills they need for their careers. Not only will this help the intern today, but it has great potential to positively assist your business tomorrow.

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